It was the 4th anniversary of my brother Danny's death this past Monday. In honor of it, I’m posting an excerpt from “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the book I was compelled to write after losing my brother Jim, and then Dan, a month later.
Written in a conversational style, the book is structured by short seemingly disjointed stories that eventually tell a whole story, which is reflective of the way the mind re-members during the grief process. It's part a recounting of the last few weeks of my brother’s lives; part a humorous re-telling of growing up in an Irish Catholic family of 9 siblings during the 50s and 60s; and part a chronicle of the day to day living and writing my way through heartbreaking grief.
I thought I would post a favorite photo of Dan, but I can’t seem to bring myself to inject such a visual reminder into the present right now. There are photos of Jim and Dan and the rest of my large family (some of whom are mentioned below) on my website, Silver and Gold, a site dedicated to my brothers. My sister, Kathy, has also posted about losing Dan on "A Particularly Persistent Point of View."
The excerpt, “Shoes in the Closet,” is one of J&J’s Mom’s favorite, who said she laughed and cried while reading the book…sometimes at the same time!
Shoes in the Closet
My brother John had a dream shortly after Dan died. He had arrived at Dan’s apartment with the U-haul (which he actually did do weeks later) to close it down, and Dan was there. John was astounded! “Dan, you’re dead! How can this be,” he asked?
“I know I’m dead, but I’m all right,” Dan answered, and then he said, “And now it’s like Christmas.” The dream continued with Dan giving away his belongings to John and other family members.
We all wanted John, the only sibling besides me now who was not living in Massachusetts, to have Dan’s computer. “We want you online. We want to keep track of you,” I told him. John, the black sheep, hard drinking fisherman rouge, who had also contracted Hepatitis C from drug use in the 70’s and was now determined to stay sober in every way, sometimes needed to be kept track of.
When Kathy, Jeanne, (who came after my mother left), and I were staying in Dan’s apartment, we got a phone call from John. John had lived with Danny for several years in Quincy, Massachusetts, and then in Texas, and was particularly broken up. He cried when he asked us if he could do Dan’s eulogy. We all knew it was his calling, especially since our youngest sister, Tricia, had a dream that John was singing “Let it be” in the church during Dan’s funeral. He didn’t sing, but we did play “Let it be” the morning of the burial, and John did give a moving eulogy for Dan. We all choked up when he ended it with, “…Today we put my big brother Dano to rest beside his big brother Jim. I guess that makes me the big brother now.”
I called Dan’s apartment when John, Joey, and Nancy, who were going to drive Dan’s Toyota Tundra truck back to Massachusetts, were there to close it down. “I have a strange request. Bring me a pair of Dan’s shoes. I want to keep them in my closet,” I said. The request was related to one of my most vivid childhood memories, and one that has been re-stimulated with Dan’s passing.
When Danny was almost four years old, he went to Florida with our grandparents for the summer, but they ending up keeping him for a whole year. A year might as well be a lifetime in the mind of a child, in the minds of children. I was five and was rummaging through the room that Dan and Jim shared when I found a pair of Danny’s shoes in the closet. They were a 1950’s style, brown with white in the center. Finding them was an abrupt reminder of the brother I used to have, the one I had forgotten about, the one I wanted back! I carried those shoes around with me all day while I cried inconsolably. I wanted my parents to witness my anguish, so they would get my brother back home for me.
I asked for a pair of Dan’s shoes because I don’t want to forget my brother, the child he was, the man he was. I wish he could come back, like he did from Florida.